Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Pulfer: Self-esteem time

Let's quit beating up our city

The car ahead of me is stopping and starting, the driver peering into every cranny of the parking garage as if a full-blown space might be hiding between the vans and SUVs in Fountain Square Garage. Finally, she parks, and we walk to the elevator together. This is her first time downtown in years, she says. Years. A stay-at-home mom furloughed for the afternoon, she lives in Sharonville and is meeting "some girlfriends" for lunch. I hope she feels the way I do when she leaves.

Because I feel good. Hopeful. Optimistic.

A riding vacuum cleaner is spiffing up the street, and I pause to admire my favorite Bats Incredible, a red strappy sandal made of Louisville Sluggers and titled "Just for the Heel of It." Quirky public art. Hey, we don't need pigs to make bad puns.

Not long ago, you could shoot a cannon through most downtown restaurants without hitting any diners, but a crowd is forming at Bella, across from the new Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, which the New York Times called "the most important American building to be completed since the Cold War."

The glass is half full.

Not the one before me at Bella, which the competent wait staff keeps filled to the brim. I mean our communal, figurative glass. Maybe it's just a frame of mind. An attitude adjustment.

My lunch companion, Dale Brown, retired CEO of the ad agency Sive/Young & Rubicam, says what Cincinnati really needs is a good shrink. Therapy. Wallowing in failure is just not healthy. Plus, we have made a lot of progress on our "issues."

The latest city crime statistics show violence is declining. We have a new ballpark, a Cincinnati Wing at the Art Museum and a Purple People Bridge connecting us to Newport's aquarium. Our Underground Railroad Freedom Center is shaping up to be not only important but handsome.

There was a time when Cincinnatians thought we were something special. We built grand buildings, had ideas that leaped over our hillsides and touched all of America.

This could happen again.

Maybe it has started.

"We've turned the corner," says Lisa Haller. As president of the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, she's in the business of selling the city as a consumer product. And business is good.

The bureau tracks our hotel occupancy and room rates against 10 comparable cities. We're doing better than any city except Nashville, she says. Kansas City is down 13 points. We're up 3. Nashville is up 5.8.

This doesn't mean, she says, that we don't have some knotty problems to untangle. "But we're not stuck in discussion. Things are happening."

Big things such as the $160 million expansion to the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center and the new School for Creative and Performing Arts. But smaller things too, the kind that begin to reweave the fabric of our community - Walnut Street Popcorn heading back downtown, Findlay Market rehabbed.

"Something shifted," says Brown, who serves on several corporate and civic boards. "There's a fresh attitude."

Our glass is not full. But it's halfway there.


E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.

Howard: Some good news
Korte: Inside City Hall
Pulfer: Self-esteem time
Radel: Pen pals finally meet

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